John O’Connor

So what’s to be done when you need employees who are better trained and more loyal?

One option, of course, is to do nothing. That choice is not exactly going to alleviate the problem. But at least you can take comfort in knowing you are in very good company, for what that’s worth.

Or you can take some incremental steps. Perhaps offer more money. Or more training. Or more benefits. Certainly, they can all help.

Or you can go large. And by go large, I mean consider something along the lines of what Walmart is doing. The nation’s largest employer recently announced it will pay for its workers to go back to school.

As part of this unprecedented effort, Walmart is partnering with three universities to offer both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees to more than a million of its employees. The only caveat is that the workers must get degrees in business or supply-chain management.

Walmart will take care of tuition, books and fees. The cost to employees? A mere $1 a day for the duration of their studies. That works out to about $75 a semester. Even by Walmart standards, that is quite a bargain.

To be sure, other companies also offer higher educational benefits as a perk. Starbucks provides full-ride support to workers through Arizona State University. Employees at Chipotle Mexican Grill can earn up to $5,250 in annual tuition assistance. Other retailers are also starting to get into the game, although mostly to a lesser extent.

But the Walmart effort really stands out. For one thing, employees can sign up once they have worked as few as 90 days. For another, there are no extra fees. For a third, employees do not need to remain with the company as a condition.

“We know there [are] a lot of benefits from a business perspective,” Drew Holler, vice president of people innovation for Walmart U.S., said on a recent call with reporters. “We know we’re going to see an influx of applications.” That’s probably a pretty safe bet.

Maybe you don’t have the firepower to compete with the Walmarts of the world. But then again, maybe you have more firepower than you realize. Think of it this way: Any college that offers online learning is a potential partner here.

Yes, it’s easy to conclude something like this is way too expensive. But before you reach that conclusion, consider how much the leaky bucket that is employee retention already sets you back.

At the very least, this approach could be great way to snag the best possible prospects. And not only might you be able to keep the keepers; you could make them even more valuable to your organization. An organization, by the way, they might be a lot more proud and grateful to be a part of.

It’s certainly something to think about.

John O’Connor is editorial director of McKnight’s Senior Living. Email him at [email protected].